October 1998 COFI/99/Inf.15

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Twenty-third Session
Rome, Italy, 15-19 February 1999


This paper reviews the major challenges facing the fisheries sector over the medium to long terms. Following the introduction where the importance of implementing the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is underscored, sectoral issues and considerations that constitute challenges for the fisheries sector as a whole are discussed. The next section considers challenges facing the management of marine capture fisheries, and in turn, challenges confronting aquaculture and inland fisheries development and management. The challenges with respect to fish utilization, quality assurance and trade are the subject of the next section. Some strategies to address the challenges raised in the paper are then presented. In the final section of the paper the Committee is invited to review the nature and extent of challenges facing world fisheries and aquaculture. Furthermore, the Committee is invited to comment on the strategies outlined to meet these challenges, and where appropriate, to provide additional advice and guidance to ensure that the challenges are effectively addressed.


1. Giving effect to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and other international fishery instruments is the major challenge facing countries in their efforts to secure long-term sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.1 The political will to take steps to accept and to implement these instruments, to adopt well conceived national policies, and to take action to operationalize those policies, are fundamental to facilitating the required structural change in the fisheries sector. The 1998 High-level Panel of External Experts in Fisheries stressed the achievement of the 1995 adoption of the Code of Conduct and urged the full and effective implementation of the Code, noting that it should remain a major activity for FAO over the medium term as a means of trying to secure the sustainable exploitation and utilization in fisheries and aquaculture. It was further noted by the Panel that the Code comprehensively embraces the work programme of the Fisheries Department and a draft Strategy to guide the implementation of the Code had been elaborated. FAO should pursue the implementation of the Code, in line with this Strategy, at every opportunity, and seek additional funds to support implementation.

2. Achieving structural change will be made all the harder in the face of increasing pressures on fisheries and aquaculture. These pressures come both from within the sector (primarily due to increasing participation rates and consequent higher resource depletion rates) and from outside (competition for space in the coastal zone and impacts such as those generated by environmental degradation and climatic variability).2 Moreover, rising real prices for fish have the effect of encouraging new investment in the sector, thereby creating additional pressures on stocks and their management. Small island developing States (SIDS), and the poorest among the developing countries, are likely to be most disadvantaged groups in terms of obtaining and maintaining access to fish as a consequence of these price-led pressures.

3. This complex array of internal and external pressures impacting the fisheries sector call for responsible, timely, coordinated, and comprehensive responses by national fishery administrations and regional fishery bodies if governance is to be strengthened. This is especially the case where, for national policy or other reasons, the relative importance of the fisheries, vis-a-vis other sectors of the economy, is assigned a lower priority.

4. In preparing this paper a number of documents have been consulted so that their respective recommendations and conclusions could be reflected in the paper. These documents included, inter alia: FAO Medium Term Plan 1998-2003; Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries; 1995 Rome Consensus on World Fisheries; 1995 Kyoto Declaration and Plan of Action; 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action; 1997 Report of the First Session of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR); draft inputs from the Fisheries Department for FAO 2000 - Strategic Framework; and the 1998 Report of the High-level Panel of External Experts in Fisheries.


5. In assessing future challenges for the fisheries sector, a number of key issues that span the entire sector, and which are of primary policy importance, can be identified. These challenges include:


6. While some increment in marine fisheries production may be anticipated in the longer run as the benefits of improved management take hold and production from under- and non-utilized resources is increased, the primary goals for marine fisheries in the medium term is to ensure that production, and the aggregate contribution marine fisheries make to global food security, is at least maintained.

7. In the medium to long term the major challenge facing marine fisheries is improved and responsible management of stocks. Such management requires the regulation of production (ideally, taking account of both inputs and outputs in a fishery) in a precautionary manner so that excessive effort, leading to overfishing, is not applied to target stocks. In addition, ecosystem management, that takes account of fishing impacts on non-target stocks, is becoming more common, and will add a further complicating dimension to the management process. Indeed, in 1997 ACFR identified an ecosystem perspective on fisheries as an area of research emphasis, while the 1998 High-level Panel of External Experts in Fisheries expressed the view that FAO and all fishery bodies must increasingly develop an ecosystem approach to management. In addition, FAO will need to act as a conduit between emerging research results and fisheries sector partners (international, regional and national) to encourage an increased emphasis on the role of fisheries in ecosystems, the way in which fisheries are affected by ecosystems, and the relationship between the alternative uses and value of ecosystems.

8. Within the context of marine fisheries management, challenges that have been highlighted by the international community include:

9. As a means of improving management in marine fisheries, the strengthening of user rights in many artisanal and small-scale fisheries, and the allocation of user rights in industrial fisheries, is being persued with priority. Utilization and management based on individual or group user rights has a long history in many parts of the world. Traditional-rights based management systems confer a user right based on prescribed social and economic parameters, while taking into account the need to conserve fisheries resources. These conservation measures normally involve fishing bans, seasonal and areal closures, and effort limitation. Traditional management systems are community surveilled and enforced, with social sanctions being imposed for fishers violating agreed conservation measures.

10. In artisanal and small-scale fisheries in developing countries the promotion of traditional or community-based management practice is now being fostered as the most appropriate means of management. This approach builds on customary and traditional practice using the concept of territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFs). In fisheries where there are thousands of fishers, hundreds of fishing communities and a plethora of landing points, contemporary management through the use of local institutions and traditional practice is the most viable option for achieving sustainability in artisanal and small-scale fisheries.

11. In industrial fisheries advances in fisheries management through individual transferable quotas (ITQs), which provide greater incentives for sustaining and optimising economic performance of fisheries, have re-focused attention on quota management. ITQ management draws on biological, economic and financial considerations as part of an integrated management system approach.

12. Several factors can be identified as being critical to the successful implementation of ITQ management systems: transparent management policies and the political will to take difficult decisions concerning management; legislation that is easily enforceable; efficient administration (particularly with respect to capacity for stock assessment, statistical collection and real-time analysis, and monitoring, surveillance and enforcement); and limited numbers of fishers and landing points.

13. While ITQ management has had considerable success where it has been implemented, the introduction of such management must be considered on a fishery-by-fishery basis since it does not provide a universal panacea for the management of all fisheries. One fundamental issue that must be addressed is the social impact of ITQ management. Although ITQs are capable of delivering biological and economic efficiency, their impact of fishing communities should be fully assessed since they may lead to social dislocation and fishworker unemployment. A further issue concerns the desirability of the possible concentration of quota and the transfer of quota to corporations and individuals outside the industry who do not have a real and long-term interest in a fishery.


14. A major challenge for aquaculture and inland fisheries will be to maintain and, where sustainable, enhance the contributions made to global fish supplies. 1996 yields from inland fisheries reached a record of 7.5 million tonnes, or 7.8 percent of total capture fisheries landings. Aquaculture contributed 26.5 percent of total world fish production (aquatic plants are included in both aquaculture and total world fish production figures). Aquaculture is now the fastest growing food production sector in agriculture. Moreover, aquaculture makes a major contribution to global food security and more opportunities still exist to further expand its role. The High-level Panel noted that there are different forms of aquaculture, some of which will have greater benefits to rural economies and better assist food security than others. Small reservoir fisheries had potential to develop as community-based management initiatives gain greater favour.

15. The contribution of inland fisheries, in particular by subsistence fisheries, to food security, while greatly under reported, is most significant, given that:

Recreational fishing, which often is for subsistence, may yield 2 million tonnes annually. Farming of herbivorous or omnivorous freshwater finfish species continues to dominate global aquaculture output, followed by production of molluscs and seaweeds. The bulk of farmed fish is produced primarily for domestic markets, providing much needed protein-rich food affordable to rural and urban consumers in many low-income food-deficit countries.

16. In many developing countries, there is significant scope for enhancing contributions of inland fisheries and aquaculture to food supplies and poverty alleviation. However, most fishers and fishfarmers continue to lack access to adequate technical information required to improve their practices to increase production. Increased fish production can be achieved through expansion, intensification, diversification, and better integration of fish production into existing land and water use schemes, but fish producers, as most rural people, often do not have access to credit. Capacity building through provision of training, extension, and advanced education to fish producers continues to be crucial for successful development.

17. The greatest threat to the sustainability of inland fishery resources is environmental degradation. Aquatic pollution, destruction of fish habitats, water abstraction and impacts on aquatic biodiversity are all increasing. These trends must be reversed. Other major issues to be addressed in inland fisheries include:

18. The potential for further growth of aquaculture is promising. 3 Such growth could be realized through improvements in technologies and resource use, intensification, integration of aquaculture with other farming activities, and development of additional areas for aquaculture. However, aquaculture will face significant challenges including:

19. Both aquaculture and inland fisheries suffer from insufficient institutional support and legal and political recognition as legitimate users of resources. Many policy makers are not aware of the benefits and needs of these sectors. A major future task is therefore to increase participation of producers and relevant public authorities in the allocation and management of aquatic resources and land uses. Management of river or lake basins, and of coastal areas must take account of fisheries and aquaculture.


20. A number of important trends that pose challenges to the post-harvest sector can be identified:


22. To address the challenges in fisheries and aquaculture FAO will, inter alia, employ the following strategies:


24. The Committee is invited to review the nature and extent of challenges facing world fisheries and aquaculture. Furthermore, the Committee is invited to comment on the strategies outlined to meet these challenges, and where appropriate, to provide additional advice and guidance to ensure that the challenges are effectively addressed.

1 FAO's role in the process is to technically support the implementation of the Code of Conduct. The required operational and policy responsibility for implementation of the Code lies clearly with countries themselves.
2 The Special Session of the General Assembly to Review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21, held in New York in June 1997, noted that with respect to oceans that marine pollution (80 percent of which is caused by land-based activities) threatens the health and livelihoods of the two thirds of humanity living in coastal areas. Moreover, some 60 percent of global fish stocks are overfished or fully fished, requiring urgent action to avoid further depletion. In this context it was noted that governments have agreed on the need to eliminate overfishing, consider the impact of subsidies to fishing fleets, and strengthen the implementation of existing agreements on marine pollution and sustainable use of oceans.
3 The High-level Panel expressed the view that aquaculture should be developed with care and the world should not expect it to solve all the problems of the fisheries sector. Intensive aquaculture may provide efficient and effective use of resources but will need to consider pathology, ecology and genetics in its development. Restocking and stock enhancement technologies demonstrate promise as a means for increasing fish production. However, stock enhancement should not be promoted as the panacea to fisheries management problems. Stock enhancement practice is reaching its mature phase but still often lacks technologies for ready supply of juveniles, objective cost-benefit analyses, allocation of user rights and the question of who pays for the enhancement. Typical aquaculture considerations including pathology, ecology and genetics also apply to stock enhancement. Stock enhancement appears less problematic in contained inland water systems.